We need a new model for doing good beyond the nonprofit corporation - Generocity Philly

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Feb. 2, 2018 10:49 am

We need a new model for doing good beyond the nonprofit corporation

Instead of more nonprofits, we need financial incentives and support infrastructure that is accessible to anyone who wants to dedicate their time helping those in need, argues columnist Tivoni Devor.

An Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service volunteer day.

(Courtesy photo)

There is no shortage of need in America, and there is no shortage of those who want to help those in need.

If given the opportunity to do so, many people would dedicate their lives to charity. Yet we say — “we” being nonprofit nerds, funders and the like — that there are too many nonprofits, as if what would solve so many problems is fewer of them. I know I’ve said it. I’ve downloaded the IRS master file of all nonprofits in Philadelphia, and marveled at the thousands and thousands of nonprofits that call Philadelphia their home.

But now, after five years at the Urban Affairs Coalition, where I help people use fiscal sponsorship to launch their nonprofit idea, I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of people that all have a passion to do good, that all have true and honest desire to help people.

I’ve realized that we need to give every person who is willing to help someone the platform and the financial freedom to do so. Imagine the positive impact on society we would unleash if we could just let people do the good work they wanted to do.

But still, what we don’t need is more nonprofit corporations.

The very construct in which nonprofits must exist — the 501(c)3 corporation — is the problem, forcing nonprofits to thrive in these antiquated operational units that must be individually registered, insured, taxed and audited create the redundancies that perpetuate the overhead myth that bogs down the nonprofit sector. Corporations are designed to compete against each other, to be chopped up and sold as stock and to maximize the value that can be extracted from it. Corporations are not the ideal model to generate impact.

Corporations are not the ideal model to generate impact.

While we are throwing out constructs, can we ditch the term “nonprofit”? As if there is no profit to the work that is done. Nonprofits can make plenty of money, nonprofits can have revenue surpluses, pay bonuses, provide commissions, own stock and property, sell things, etc.

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But nonprofits are called nonprofits because no profit can be extracted from them by an investor class. They are not investment-worthy. Effective nonprofits do generate a return on investment, but that return is only realized by the state as most successful nonprofits nonprofits can measure their impact by decreasing individual’s tax burden on the state, and by increasing the state’s tax revenues.

So, we don’t need any more nonprofit corporations. What we do need are new platforms and systems that will allow mission-driven individuals to pursue their passion. We need financial incentives and support infrastructure that is accessible to anyone who wants to dedicate their time helping those in need.

We need something like AmeriCorps, but open to all and with no time limits, where anyone of any age who wants to commit to a cause can get a stipend — a type of universal basic income for full-time volunteers.

We need something akin to the military reserves but for social services, where you commit to a certain amount of volunteer training and hours and are able to be called up so when we have something as bad as a Flint’s water crisis or Puerto Rico’s hurricanes — teams of impact reservists called in for support.

We need something like what the Red Cross could aspire to be if it weren’t corrupted by the pressure of fundraising and, indeed, needing to act as a corporation.

If given the opportunity to help others and also provide for themselves and their family, millions of people would quit the jobs that they hate and do it. Yes, many people volunteer their time, but only as much as their privilege allows. Many people give back, but often those who can are the few who have enough time and resources to give something back. They have the luxury of control of their time.

I talk to two to three people a week who want to dedicate their lives to helping others but simply can’t because they don’t have the time or money to do so. We need to unlock this potential energy for good, and that means examining concepts and constructs of how this work can be done.

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